“America is currently the world's super power. What difference is there between the U.S. and China, Europe or Russia? Since we can negotiate with them, why shouldn't we negotiate with America? Negotiation does not mean we embrace them. We can talk with them and if they accept our stance, we can accept theirs and that would be it.”
The above lines are a passage from a letter written to the revolution leader Ayatollah Khomenei in the 1980s by former Iranian president, the late Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died Monday in Tehran. Rafsanjani, who advocated negotiations with the U.S. – which Khomenei describes as the “Great Satan” – 30 years ago, who accelerated Iran's integration with the world through the critical agreements he signed, and who, while doing all this, always remained in close contact with the regime's fundamental organizations, is no longer among us.
Even though Rafsanjani, who was always in a very active position due to his closeness to Khomenei, appears to have opened the flag to the conservative wing, he never entirely broke ties with them either. Rafsanjani, playing the lead role in the election of Ali Khamenei as the “religious leader” following Khomeini's death, remained “indispensable” until he passed away. It is already a known fact that he was the greatest supporter and mentor of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Surely Rafsanjani's death is a serious loss for the reformist wing in Iran. However, in the emotional world of the Iranian community, which is woven with mourning and sorrow, this situation may also turn into strong support for Rouhani in the May presidential elections. The image of Khamenei leading Rafsanjani's funeral prayer in Tehran in tears yesterday, will not be easily erased from memories.
* * *
Rafsanjani, mentioned in numerous sources as “Iran's wealthiest man,” had built his political life on pragmatism. The comments on Rafsanjani, who was in many important positions ranging from military commandership to presidency during his long political career, point to agreement that he was “Iran's Machiavelli.” Rafsanjani really was a man who always succeeded in keeping economic gains a step ahead of the regime's objectives and principles.
His motivation, when advocating integration with the world, improving political ties with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, leading the launch of nuclear talks with the U.S., was always “more prosperity.” It was this motivation that made Rafsanjani, who was born in 1934 as the son of a nut tradesman from Kerman, the wealthiest man in his country. Just as the source of his wealth and how he earned it have always been a subject of debate, his name was also frequently mentioned in corruption allegations. As a matter of fact, his 47-year-old son Mehdi Hashemi was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2015 on charges of corruption and financial crimes.
Investments made by the Rafsanjani family both within and outside the country were also frequently on the agenda of foreign media. The family that has made great gains through its influence over the oil ministry is also known to have a giant conglomerate operating in the field of energy production and a private airline company. The Rafsanjanis, who attempted quite lucrative businesses in many countries from Thailand to Switzerland, did not neglect the U.S. and Canada either. The family that bought apartments in Los Angeles became a big partner of one of Canada's largest highways. While all these trade activities gained the family billions of dollars, it also made them very close with the region and world's major economic circles.
His paramount wealth was probably the most important factor separating Rafsanjani from the other “mullahs.” Wealth had also shaped his understanding of politics and how he saw the world. With his death, Iran lost not only a “reformist” politician and the element of balance in internal affairs, but also a great capitalist.
* * *
The term “reformist,” which is always used in interpretations and analyses concerning Iran, should not mislead us. The distinction that conservatives are responsible for all the crimes committed by the regime and that reformists act upon the aim of a completely humanitarian administration, is fundamentally wrong.
Current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is considered in the reformist wing, is a figure who is continuing his country's Syria policy exactly as it is. We have yet to hear the other important reformists make any criticism in relation to the murders committed in the Middle East as a result of Iran's foreign policy. They are all completely loyal to the foundations of the regime and all their exegeses are related to details concerning their own interests.
The West is dreaming of an agreeable and obedient “reformist wing” cadre that will deviate completely from the fundamentals put forth by Khomenei when he was founding the state, that will give up nuclear operations, that will curb Iran's desire for regional hegemony and that will act together with the U.S. and Europe on every matter. Since the “Iranian” identity is seriously settled in Iran, this dream is also quite far from the truth.
The day reformists realize that Iran uses the magic word, “reform,” to make Iran richer and stronger, merely as discourse, that there is no difference between the conservatives and reformists in terms of protecting Iran's interests with determination, the West will have also woken up to the realities of the region.